Funky Drummer Day: 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews Part Three


In honor of Funky Drummer Day, local musician and journalist Trent Moorman has graciously shared interviews he's done for The Stranger and Vice Magazine for 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews, a four-part series here on the KEXP Blog!

Listen all day today, Wednesday, March 9th from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, for Funky Drummer Day itself! KEXP DJs John Richards, Cheryl Waters, and Kevin Cole pay tribute to one of the most sampled breaks in music history: the iconic eight-bar unaccompanied solo by session drummer Clyde Stubblefield in the 1970 James Brown single “Funky Drummer.”

[ all photos, unless otherwise credited, courtesy of Trent Moorman ]

Past Lives
photo by Rustee Pace (view set)

Mark Gajadhar (The Blood Brothers, Past Lives, Champagne Champagne)

Gajadhar is a jackhammer speed surgeon, and a Seattle musical treasure. He pounds with velocity, power, endurance, and accuracy. A punk engine shattering out supreme, inimitable patterns.

He told a story about a girl who showed up at a Blood Brothers show in Germany with a bass. She got onstage and tried to play with the band.

Wait, so a girl in Germany actually got onstage at a Blood Brothers show and tried to plug in and play?

Something like that. We were on tour in Munich, with Liars, I believe. We pull up to the venue and we're loading in, and we see this girl sitting out front, holding a bass, no case. She was just sitting there holding her bass, ready to play.Ready to rock.

We couldn't tell what she was doing, but she was ready to rock. She approached us and said, "Hey, I brought my bass to play with you guys tonight." She was pretty dead set on it. We continued loading, and she was kind of harassing us. She told Jordan [Blilie] that he looked like a little hamburger.

How did the show unfold?

We started playing, and I could see her in the crowd with her bass, inching closer, eyeing the bass side of the stage. She stood out—the one person standing there with a bass. Then she made a move, got onstage, and lunged at Morgan [Henderson]'s setup. I think for a second she was actually plugged in and playing.

What did y'all do?

We stopped playing midsong and told her, all together, "This is inappropriate. We are going to finish our set, without you onstage with your bass." Cody [Votolato] and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. I'm pretty sure Morgan was fairly upset with the whole scenario, because it's kind of geared toward him, since he's the bass player. You could see people there were like, "What is this girl doing?"

The Maldives
photo by Brittney Bollay (view set)

Faustine Hudson (The Maldives)

Her drumming is sly and wise. Heavy stomp. Swamp/star child and traveler. Best shuffle-beat in town. Her drum motion is circulatory, furtive, and blurring. There's a wily, jutting sense about her time keeping, and she usually plays with a big smile plastered wide across her face.

What's your approach to drumming?

Passion and love. No approach; it just puts me in a Zen-ful place.

How do you get ready for shows?

I drink a coconut, go for a dip in the closest body of water, and stay as far away from the bar as possible.

Do you experience sexism?

I have this mentality that I can accomplish whatever the fuck I want. My sex doesn't ever cross my mind as being an advantage or disadvantage. I'm a musician, and have put 20 years into it. I was in San Francisco about five years ago, at an old blues joint watching old blues dudes do their thing. I pulled out an old, shitty tape recorder to record the show. When the singer/guitar player saw it, he started freaking out. He was saying he was gonna sue me, and have me eighty-sixed from the place. I told him he could have the tape, that I was a musician, and that I respected what he was doing. He wasn't having it, saying I was no musician, which made me snap a bit. My response was something like, "I can shuffle better than anyone in this town. Here is the fucking tape." He said, "Why don't you sit in with us then?" So I did. And by the end of the night, I went from the asshole who was trying to bootleg a blues jam to the friend from Seattle, drummer girl, who can shuffle like no other around them parts.

What do you make of the drummer's role in the business of music?

Music as a collective is a beautiful thing, and I think as a band or project, you're only as good as your drummer. Because drummers hold the space for everything else to be happening around the feel. But I don't think everybody sees it like that. Copyright tends to be about the hook or melody line. So why pay out equally if the drummer didn't come up with that, ya know? The bands that seem to have longevity are the ones that basically operate in an equal way. Every drummer's feel is different, which is what makes us unique. Set the expectations early on that you're valuable, and you're offering a service only you can provide.

Looking back, would you do anything differently?

No way, man! I'm a believer that everything happens for a reason. I would never tour like I did in my early 20s. Or play on records for free without even having a conversation about it with the artist. But I also wouldn't take back those experiences, because they helped me respect what I do, and myself. And they've shaped how I fake playing music in "the industry." My dad said, "If you don't feel it, don't play it."

15 DVonne Lewis

D'Vonne Lewis (Industrial Revelation, Skerik's Bandalabra, Digable Planets)

He's a jazz-based scientific calculator with constant feel and awareness who's permanently in the pocket and tight. He spoke while driving to Tacoma for a show.

How many gigs do you play a week?

I play 13 or 14 gigs a week. Thursday through Sunday, it's two to three gigs a day. If I do one at 2 p.m., I'm ready to keep it going. I'm open to playing anything. Get there on time. Be respectful. You get respect if you put in respect.

How did you become so pro, and so well-rounded?

I envision how other drummers would play a certain part. How would Zigaboo from the Meters play it? I play with lots of people, and spend time studying their music and style. This is all I do. Some shows might be worth playing for less, especially in the beginning. At some point you need more than Tim's Cascade chips and beer. I've talked to other musicians about when to say no to things.

What's your advice for drummers wanting to make a living from it?

Learn all styles. Make a mixtape with different kinds of music, and practice to it. Mr. Brown at Roosevelt High gave me good tips. I played a ton. I took it upon myself to get better. Somebody laid Coltrane on me with Elvin Jones. Then I had to check out Tony Williams, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. Then came Papa Jo Jones with the big band, and then I headed over to Buddy Rich. After that it was like, "Oh, there are all these rock drummers, check out Neil Peart." I really studied people, and started to see how it was all related. Right out of high school I went on a tour. There were per diems and everything. I was like, "What's a per diem?"

What happens when people try not to pay you?

It doesn't happen much anymore. I'd say, "Okay, when can you get it to me?" If they say a day, and that day comes, and they still don't have it, I'll just remember never to work with them again. They needed it more than me, I guess.

16 Davee Cee

Davee Cee (Marmalade, Clinton Fearon, Klozd Sirkut)

Davee lays down a funk foundation solid enough to hold up the 99 viaduct, while simultaneously shaking it to the ground.

What's your advice for new drummers?

Practice, practice, practice. It's important to know your instrument and all its possibilities. Be on time and have a positive mental attitude, because no matter how good you are, nobody wants to work with an asshole. It's hard for a lot of us to get paid recording gigs and even harder to get your points on your royalties. This happens because in a recording project, drummers are looked at as a small piece of the process, especially if you're not involved with songwriting, which most drummers aren't.

How can drummers improve their business end?

Get into writing. Get into beatmaking and showcasing them on your biggest tool in the toolbox—the internet. Who's better suited to make beats than a drummer? Ask questions about how you can be more involved, and start writing songs yourself. Dave Grohl became very involved in Nirvana's songwriting, and obviously Foo Fighters'. Neil Peart of Rush writes most of their lyrics. Jeff Porcaro helped write "Human Nature" on Michael Jackson's Thriller, arguably the biggest-selling record of all time. But don't worry about the money so much that it takes over your art. Play great, take care of your business, and the money will come.

What happened that made you start to treat your drumming more seriously?

I was in a band called IMIJ, and we opened for Fishbone on a tour. After our set, I'd watch their drummer, Fish, just kill it every single night. I came back home from that with "Post Traumatic Drum Syndrome," and I practiced like I never had before. It felt born-again the way he went through different styles, and his intensity always stuck with me.

17 Heather Thomas

Heather Thomas (Mary Lambert, Darci Carlson)

Thomas has a degree in percussion performance from Central Washington University. Heather is a jazz hound, extending skillfully into funk and rock with a well-stamped backbeat. She spoke on tour in Ellensburg, fresh off European shows with Mary Lambert.

Tell me about playing in Europe with Mary Lambert.

Initially, Mary wasn't going to take me. The tour was going to be a stripped down thing. But I said, "If you really want to do it right, you have to have your full band." I didn't want to miss out on the chance to go over there with them. I didn’t make any money, but it was definitely worth it for the experience. I truly love working with Mary and the band. It’s a great group of people. For Mary’s next album, she's planning on giving the band writing credits, which is exciting for me. Mary values her band, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.

How do you know when it's not worth it?

Some shows are worth playing for less because they're good opportunities, and you're playing with great people. Obviously, it's important to make money. I try to make at least $100 from each gig, and don't usually take studio sessions for under $250 a day. One side of drumming is that you're limited to only making money as a performer. In the studio, you get a day rate, but most of the time you don't make a cut of the album. You also aren't assuming any of the risk if there's a loss. On tour, I'll get my per diem and my rate per gig, but I don't make a bigger cut if we're playing a huge show.

What's your advice for new drummers?

If you're good, and prepared, and you're easy to work with, there will eventually be too many gigs. Value yourself. Become a songwriter. If you feel like you're a co-writer on a song, make that clear before it gets too far along in the process. Maybe get it in writing. People will treat you a certain way if you allow them to. I want drummers to know they’re valuable members of the team, and it’s a huge advantage to see yourself as an equal musician and songwriter.

What do you do when people try to get out of paying you?

Sometimes bands will be paid at the end of the night with a check, and the bandleader won't have that much cash on them. It can be a problem if you were expecting to get paid. What if your rent is due? I provide ways to make getting paid easy. Venmo is great. It's an app that makes a direct electronic transfer of funds into your Venmo account or your bank account, and it doesn't take a percentage. That way you're not chasing someone around for the money.

If you have a feeling you're not going to get paid for a gig, you can't sit around and hope you're going to get paid. You have to go get it. You have to take care of yourself. Of course, be tactful. Money is tough, especially when your bandmates are your friends. You hate having to hound someone for money. Be as up front as possible.

18 Tyler Swan

Tyler Swan (Truckasauras)

Swan is a beat making guru, and a drummer with diamond cut exactitude. He’s got feel for days and days.

Why is Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts such a good drummer?

He does more with less. It’s more about pockets and feels, than fancy fills. He’s one of my favorite drummers by far. And Keith Richards, in my opinion, is the best rock n’ roll rhythm guitar player ever. If you pick apart these songs, there’s a reason why people love them so much.

Growing up in Kirkland, WA, what music had the biggest effect on you?

I learned how to play drums listening to Led Zeppelin records. I was a total Led Zeppelin nerd. My Dad played the Stones and Dylan all the time. My Mom bumped the Pink Floyd. A lot of these Rolling Stones songs are engrained in my head. When I was in second grade, my parents surprised me and pulled me out of school for a day to take me to see the Stones in Vancouver. It was the Steel Wheels tour. I got to see them with original bass player Bill Wyman playing.

What’s your favorite Rolling Stones story?

I like when Charlie Watts told Mick Jagger that he wasn’t his drummer. Watts said Mick was his singer. I guess Watts punched him. Who knows how much is true. And before he punched him, apparently he shaved and cleaned up, and put on a suit.

Stay tuned for Part Four, and check out Parts One and Two right here on the KEXP Blog! Trent Moorman is a Seattle-based music writer, and drummer for a ton of local bands, past and present, including Head Like a Kite, Pillar Point, Katie Kate, OCnotes, and many more. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Funky Drummer Day: 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews Part One

In honor of Funky Drummer Day, local musician and journalist Trent Moorman has graciously shared interviews he's done for The Stranger and Vice Magazine for 24 Drummers, 24 Interviews, a four-part series here on the KEXP Blog!

Read More